Travel sector predicts ‘difficult’ January trading

The sector can expect a “difficult” January despite the fillip to confidence from the vaccine rollout, senior industry figures predict.

Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the Association of Atol Companies, said: “There will be loads of marketing from major operators, but there is no real evidence of huge increases [in bookings]. Revenue is going to be difficult in January.

He told a Travel Weekly Insight Report launch event: “There will be some winter sun, but a lot of people are nervous about travelling. Skiing is going to be a disaster. There will be some business to Madeira, but it’s a question of what testing is required. People are wary of taking a risk.”

Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson said: “It’s down to what happens with tiers. Right now in Scotland there is no ban on international travel, but we’re told not to travel between tiers and not to travel to airports. That instils fear. It depends on the message from government and devolved administrations, and the FCDO advice.”

However, Dobson added: “We’re hopeful of a winter season. There is demand for it. As soon as Dubai came on sale there was demand.”

She insisted: “The vaccine is the best news we’ve had. We’ve just re-signed three shop leases and we’ve signed for three stores to open in 2022.”

Virgin Atlantic head of global sales Lee Haslett agreed: “There is pent-up demand. We’ve been shocked at how good our performance has been when we put a deal out. We’ve seen a real bounce from the vaccine news.”

Richard Sofer, Tui UK commercial director, described the vaccine as “a shot in the arm” saying: “The news has been good for everyone’s mood. It’s definitely helped bookings for the summer. People feel more confident from March-April onwards.”

Tui chief executive Fritz Joussen hailed “strong” UK bookings for summer 2021 as he revealed a loss of €3 billion for the 12 months to September and insisted: “We are through the worst.”

Europe’s largest travel group plans to operate 20% of capacity this winter but 80% for summer 2021. Joussen said: “The winter programme is not beautiful but keeps [us] running. We are 50% booked for May and prices are 14% up. The UK is 19% up for summer 2021. Demand is there.”

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